Instant Impressions: Week 3

Jamaal Charles, Larry Fitzgerald, Darren McFadden bounce back

Updated: September 24, 2012, 1:31 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Jamaal Charles took the New Orleans Saints apart piece by piece Sunday. He did it with a 91-yard TD run. He did it with a 40-yard gain on the very next series. He did it catching six passes. He did it producing 288 total yards from scrimmage. True, the Saints are awful on defense, but we're talking about 39 touches for J-Mail. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say his surgically repaired knee is OK. Peyton Hillis touched the ball three times, had a horrendous drop and apparently hurt an ankle, failing to appear during the fourth quarter or overtime. As of this writing, I have no word on the severity of Hillis' injury, and there's no way the Kansas City Chiefs could ever justify using Charles like that on a weekly basis. But as Field Yates and I concluded on our Fantasy Underground podcast last week, Charles is in fine fettle. He's a clear fantasy starter every week.

• It turns out that Larry Fitzgerald guy is pretty good, too. He toasted the Philadelphia Eagles for the second straight year (and for the fifth time in five career games), producing 114 yards on nine grabs with a TD. John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, it doesn't matter. Fitz is in your lineup every week. And Andre Johnson may have caught only two passes in Week 3, but the first one counted: A 60-yard TD. AJ also drew a significant illegal contact penalty against Champ Bailey, coming off a week in which he had three catches for 21 yards. Don't bench these guys unless they're hurt. Don't do it. Ever.

Darren McFadden also rewarded fantasy owners who kept the faith. He scored on a 64-yard run in the first quarter Sunday, came within inches of a second TD, which was overturned by replay, and totaled 113 yards on 18 carries. In last week's Hard Count, I opined that the narrative about Run-DMC struggling because of the Oakland Raiders' zone-blocking system was overly simplistic, and for a week, at least, that analysis seems right.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesChris Johnson has only eight fantasy points after three games and has been taken off the undroppables list.

• Alas, it wasn't all sweetness and light for supposed fantasy studs attempting to rebound. Chris Johnson's numbers were awful again: 14 carries for 24 yards and one catch for five yards. I haven't watched the tape yet, but I did see three plays on which CJ0K lost a total of 23 rushing yards simply by being met in the backfield by multiple Detroit Lions defenders. Take away those losses and, well, we're still probably panicking because Johnson still hasn't sniffed the end zone. But it wouldn't be this bad. Folks, it sounds like excuse-making when CJ says it, but I'll say it for him: That Tennessee Titans O-line is an embarrassment right now. Johnson had a few nice runs in Week 3. I'll look at the tape and examine further. But yeah, I mean, at the moment, I think you'd have to conclude the old fantasy football maxim "Never Bench Your Studs" doesn't apply to Johnson at the moment because through three weeks, he sure doesn't look anything like a stud.

• Fortunately for his fantasy owners, C.J. Spiller grabbed a dump pass and took it to the house before he suffered a scary-looking shoulder injury, meaning he salvaged his fantasy day with 11 points in ESPN.com standard leagues. The better news for Spiller's fantasy owners is that early reports from the Buffalo Bills indicate that they expect the third-year RB to miss only one or two games. It looked like a broken collarbone was a real possibility, so this is encouraging. Fred Jackson has made noise about possibly playing in Week 4 against the New England Patriots, though that may be overly optimistic. We may be looking at at least one week of Tashard Choice starting. For that reason, he's going to be one of fantasy's top waiver additions this week.

Reggie Bush also suffered an injury -- in his case, to a knee -- and though he left the field under his own power and returned to the sideline to begin the second half still wearing his uniform, he never re-entered the Miami Dolphins' heartbreaking overtime loss. Daniel Thomas handled most of the rushing duties thereafter (after having vultured a short TD from Bush in the first quarter), and wound up with 80 yards on 20 touches and a lost fumble. As with Spiller, Bush appears to have averted serious injury, though he'll reportedly have an MRI Monday. Lamar Miller also was in the mix after Bush left (he had nine carries for 48 yards), and the immortal Jorvorskie Lane stole a 1-yard score of his own. That means while Thomas probably would lead if Bush misses time, he'd probably be at the head of a platoon.

Matthew Stafford played dink-and-dunk for the much of the afternoon, rarely targeting Calvin Johnson and making folks wonder whether Nate Burleson (10 catches for 69 yards) is a waiver add. Then Brandon Pettigrew caught a pass but was stripped by Alterraun Verner, who returned the fumble for a defensive touchdown, and Stafford reportedly hurt his hamstring chasing down Verner. He had to leave the game, and is due for an MRI Monday. In his place, Shaun Hill led an improbable comeback, throwing a TD to Megatron then hoisting a Hail Mary that Titus Young caught. (As much as I'm invested in Young performing well, his six grabs for 75 yards and a TD are just slightly inflated by the ridiculous 46-yard deflection that sent Sunday's game into overtime.) Stafford ended the day with 33 completions but "only" 278 yards (his yards per completion last season was 12.0; Sunday it was 8.4). The Detroit Lions play the Minnesota Vikings next week and Hill would play if Stafford can't go. It wouldn't be a crippling blow to the offense.

[+] EnlargeMikel Leshoure
Don McPeak/US PresswireMikel Leshoure received 30 touches in his first NFL regular-season game.
• The Lions also unveiled Mikel Leshoure, who made the first regular-season appearance of his NFL career after tearing an Achilles last preseason and losing the first two games of '12 to a drug-related suspension. Beat reporters indicated all week that Leshoure would get involved right away, but nobody understood exactly how involved. Kevin Smith didn't get a touch all day. Joique Bell played sparingly for much of the contest, though he was on the field in overtime. Leshoure had 26 carries for 100 yards and a goal-line score, and added four catches for 34 yards. Can I promise Leshoure has now taken over as an unequivocal starter for the rest of the year? I cannot. Do I think the Lions have done everything possible to demote Smith? I sure do. Leshoure should certainly be owned in all fantasy leagues. He's at least a flex versus the Vikings.

Ryan Mathews returned to action amid a San Diego Chargers meltdown, and the good news is twofold. First, he emerged unscathed. Second, he got a full workload: Mathews had 15 touches for 76 yards despite the blowout. Of course, no Charger found the end zone, so in the short term this was a bust of a debut. Philip Rivers (a flag player of mine this summer) was garbage in this game, blowing throw after throw, tossing two picks and no scores, and basically reprising the worst moments of his mediocre '11 campaign. To be elite fantasy players, Mathews needs Rivers and Rivers needs Mathews. After seeing Week 3, I feel more optimistic about the RB than the QB, though the Kansas City Chiefs (Week 4's opponent) haven't exactly stopped anyone yet this season.

• At this point, I have to wonder if I was just way too stubborn about Matt Ryan this summer. I'd never seen him do it before. His career-best season total for passing yards was 4,177, and his career high in TD passes was 29. I left Ryan outside my top 10 fantasy QBs, though I knew Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez made for some tantalizing weaponry. Well, through three weeks, Ryan is on pace for 4,229 yards and 42 TDs, and while guys like Stafford, Rivers, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Tony Romo (to name seven) have put up stinkers, Ryan has racked up 31, 17 and 21 fantasy points. If the Atlanta Falcons hadn't been killing all three of their opponents, the QB could've done even more damage. When the worst thing that happens to your fantasy signal-caller is he takes the air out of the ball because he's been too good for three quarters, you're in good shape. It's tough not to view Ryan as a top-five guy right now.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Photo by Scott Rovak/US PresswireRobert Griffin has accounted for seven touchdowns and only two turnovers this season.

• Speaking of QBs who may be slump-proof, how about that Robert Griffin III? Once again, RG3 wasn't particularly great with his arm Sunday: 21-of-34 for 221 yards and a TD. Once again, that's Alex Smith territory. But Griffin is an incredible runner; through three weeks, he's at 209 yards and three rushing TDs. To date, he's accrued 42 fantasy points with his arm and 36 with his legs. That's 46.1 percent of his points racked up via running. For a frame of reference, Newton's rookie season saw him post 40.3 percent from running (and Tim Tebow's '11 campaign was 46.8 percent). RG3 may someday be an accomplished downfield passer, but for the moment the Washington Redskins aren't looking for that. They're letting him roam. And for that reason, for as long as he stays healthy, Griffin looks like his weekly downside is minimal.

• How about those sophomore QBs? Jake Locker (29-of-42, 378 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 4 carries, 35 yards), Christian Ponder (21-of-35, 198 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 7 carries, 33 yards, 1 rush TD) and Andy Dalton (19-of-27, 328 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 2 carries, 16 yards) all posted 24 standard-league fantasy points or more Sunday. I'm not saying that means you have to rush right out and insert any member of this troika into your starting lineup -- though Dalton has submitted two above-average games in a row -- but it's nice to see nevertheless. Heck, Blaine Gabbert even provided a happy moment, tossing a game-winning strike to Cecil Shorts.

• The New York Jets' defense took a serious blow when Darrelle Revis went down with a torn ACL. Certainly, if this is your fantasy defense, you're going to have to see how the unit looks post-Revis before you feel confident penciling them into your lineup for the rest of the season.

• The Jets may have some upheaval on the other side of the ball, too, as it sure looked to me that Bilal Powell was getting some early-down work during crunch time Sunday. Shonn Greene had 19 carries to Powell's 10, so I don't think we can conclusively say anything yet, but Greene sits at an awful 2.8 yards per carry through three weeks, while Powell is at 4.0. This offense can use all the changeups it can get, and I won't at all be surprised to see Powell join a straight platoon with Greene as early as Week 4. Unfortunately, that game is against a hopping-mad San Francisco 49ers defense, so it's probably best to keep each of these guys out of your lineup in the short term.

• Finally, here's an injury roundup: Austin Collie was carted off the field with a knee issue and immediately ruled out, so that might not be good. Reggie Wayne had another 15 targets Sunday, and despite rookie T.Y. Hilton stealing a bit of the limelight, if Collie can't play, Wayne figures to be the huge focal point of Andrew Luck's attention. … Beanie Wells came out of Sunday's win over the Eagles with a toe injury, and he told reporters after the game it might be a case of turf toe. Ryan Williams, who before Sunday had produced 22 yards on 18 carries with a crucial Week 2 fumble, helped the Cardinals run out the clock and wound up with some garbage-time padding to the tune of 83 yards on 13 carries. There's a pretty good chance he gets the backfield to himself against the Dolphins next week. … Willis McGahee managed 13 touches for 46 yards before a rib injury drove him from Sunday's loss. As of this writing, there was no indication how long-term of a problem it might be. Because Knowshon Moreno was a healthy scratch this week, Lance Ball and rookie Ronnie Hillman split backfield duties after McGahee's injury. … Darrius Heyward-Bey was presumably knocked unconscious by a helmet-to-chin shot from Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Mundy, a hit that went unpenalized but almost certainly will get Mundy fined. DHB suffered a neck injury.

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